The Northrop Grumman Lunar Landing Contest, a competition designed to get private space companies more involved in helping replace NASA's aging fleet, just began its second phase on Saturday with three teams vying for a $1 million prize. Scorpius, a 1,900-pound,
rocket-powered craft, built by Armadillo Aerospace, ascended 50 meters (164 feet) into the air, flew over to land on a simulated rocky lunar surface 50 meters (164 feet) away, and then rose and flew back to land where it started. The flight included a requirement of at least 180 seconds of flying time [SPACE.com].
The successful landing puts Armadillo in a comfortable position as it waits to see if the other teams can complete the takeoffs and landings. If they can't, Armadillo will walk home with the cash. The team also won the $350,000 phase 1 competition, a similar mock landing that only required 90 seconds of flight time. The competition is part of the X Prize Foundation, which funds projects that benefit humanity and has already forked over $10 million to achieve a privately funded manned spaceflight. Peter Diamandis, founder and chairman of the foundation,
called Saturday's flight "a stepping stone toward suborbital tourism, rocket racing and landing on the moon" [Dallas Observer]. The two other teams are scheduled to attempt the phase 2 landing in October.
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Image: Armadillo Aerospace